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Rising to the Top: Promoting Deeper Learning in the Laboratory

Chapter in book
Authors Anne Farewell
Published in National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Chemistry and Molecular Biology
Language en
Keywords Science education; inquiry based laboratories; laboratories; labs; teaching; case study teaching;
Subject categories Physical Sciences, Chemical Sciences, Earth and Related Environmental Sciences, Other Natural Sciences, Biological Sciences, Educational Sciences


Inquiry-based labs differ from cookbook labs in that inquiry-based labs contain an element of experimentation. A cookbook lab can be performed by a student without understanding any of the theory connected with the exercise whereas inquiry-based labs require a degree of conceptual knowledge for a student to perform the lab. Inquiry-based labs also strengthen and deepen students understanding of topics discussed in lectures or reading assignments. There are many variations and degrees of inquiry in these labs ranging from a lab that is entirely designed by the students to those that include small questions requiring that the students predict the outcomes of a lab or fill in missing information (guided inquiry). A simple specific example of a cookbook lab would be instructing students to measure volume changes between ice and liquid water. The students would be given step by step instructions to follow and would not need to apply any conceptual knowledge. An inquiry based lab on the same topic would allow the students to design their own experiment to discover how the volume of liquid water differs from that of ice. One goal of this activity is to introduce inquiry-based lab design. Beyond lab design, lab supervision is crucial to encouraging students to use their conceptual knowledge when doing a practical lab. Lab assistants or teachers who are involved in the lab can use student questions to encourage deeper understanding. This case study includes a role-play exercise for this skill. This case study has been designed to be used in science education courses for both graduate student laboratory assistants and lecturers or professors in natural sciences at the university or college level. It includes discussion and role-play of a hypothetical laboratory. No specific knowledge of biology or chemistry is needed beyond high school level to complete this task, though knowledge of the existence of microorganisms (yeast) and proteins is assumed. In addition, this activity is suitable for participants with little or no pedagogics training.

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